Personal detailsName: Keanu Reeves
Born: 2 September 1964 (Age: 50)
Where: Beirut, Lebanon
Height: 6' 1"
Awards: No Major Awards
All about this star
Few film stars, and very few who earn $15 million per movie, have suffered as many critical batterings as Keanu Reeves. They've usually been fierce, too, contending that Reeves is so wooden, so expressionless that he must rank amongst the worst actors in Hollywood. It seems so unfair. After all, he first broke through playing a succession of alienated teenagers, culminating with the arch dumbo Ted "Theodore" Logan in Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure. You have to think that the opinions of Reeves' critics are based more on his characters than his performances. They think he's some blockheaded Valley Boy who struck gold - in fact, he's not even American.
Add to this the rest of his CV. Reeves has worked with many of cinema's finest directors - Bertolucci, Coppola, Kenneth Branagh, Gus Van Sant, Lawrence Kasdan, Ron Howard, Stephen Frears, not to mention action greats like Kathryn Bigelow, Andrew Davis and Jan De Bont. He's acted alongside Al Pacino, Cate Blanchett, Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, Anthony Hopkins, William Hurt, John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Dianne Wiest. If he was as bad as some say, how could he ever have built up a list like this? And if your answer to that question is "Well, he's good-looking, isn't he?" you clearly haven't been watching his progress. The guy works hard, he's taken risks right from the start, and he's delivered some startling performances along the way. Read on, and judge for yourself.
He was born Keanu Charles Reeves on the 2nd of September, 1964, in Beirut. His father Samuel Nowlin Reeves, a part-Chinese part-Hawaiian geologist had married English showgirl Patricia Taylor there, the couple having met after he'd seen her performing at a nightclub. His name, Keanu, is Hawaiian for "cool breeze over the mountains". Well, literally-speaking it means "the coolness", but the fancy extension is forgivable. We all need a little more poetry in our lives, don't we?
His parents' marriage would not last for long. Within a couple of years of Keanu's birth, they'd moved to Australia, had a daughter (Kim) and divorced. Samuel would return to Hawaii, while Patricia would take the kids to New York. Here she would meet and marry the stage and film director Paul Aaron (he'd later direct Chuck Norris in Force Of One and Glenn Close in Maxie), who'd shift the family to Toronto, where they'd all take Canadian citizenship. Sadly, this marriage wouldn't last either, with Patricia later marrying rock promoter Robert Miller, who'd give Keanu a half-sister, Karina. He'd also help Patricia into a new career as a costume designer for pop stars such as David Bowie and Dolly Parton. Later still would come fourth husband Jack Bond, owner of a hair salon, though she'd divorce him, too, in 1994.
Growing up in the bohemian section of Toronto, Keanu spent the years between kindergarten and 8th Grade at Jesse Ketchum Public School. After that, things became a little more complicated. Not keen on academic pursuits, he much preferred sports to lessons, particularly ice hockey. Excelling as goalkeeper, he became known as "The Wall" and would be voted his school's MVP. His various stepfathers would make his upbringing more interesting than the norm - the young Keanu would attend Jewish summer camp and wrestle with Alice Cooper.
There'd also be Drama. As said, Keanu was not a happy bunny in class. Teachers would recall him forever forgetting his books or homework. When called up on it, he'd just smile and go fetch them. Indeed later, with his usual self-deprecation, he'd jokingly comment "I'm a meat-head man. You've got smart people and you've got dumb people. I just happen to be dumb". Instead, he found true pleasure in the adrenaline of live performance. By 14, he'd already decided on a theatrical career, and began to seek work in adverts and shows on Canadian TV. In 1979, he made his professional acting debut in Hanging In, a comedy set in a youth counselling centre. He played a tough street kid, his first line on screen being "Hey, lady, can I use the shower?"
By the next year he'd also scored a high-profile part dancing in a Coke ad. The company would employ him again in 1983 when he played a youngster whose disappointment at losing a bike race is tempered when his beloved father hands him a Coke. There'd also be an appearance on behalf of Kellogg's. Laying out a long breakfast table, Keanu would set out boxes of corn flakes then, overcome by temptation, would pour himself a bowl and eat them with near-orgasmic delight. This would be his first major paycheque.
Of course, this career would not make normal classes any more interesting for the young boy and he'd attend no fewer than four different High Schools, including La Salle and the Toronto School for the Performing Arts. Finally dropping out at 17, he began to pursue a theatrical career in earnest, supporting himself by sharpening ice skates and working as a pasta chef and tree cutter. He made his stage debut proper in a workshop production called For Adults Only, based on the real-life abduction of young women in Toronto. Next came another student show when he played a preppy fellow in Holding Someone Holding Me, a production put on in a converted downtown morgue. There'd also be a minor production of The Crucible, he'd play Mercutio in Romeo And Juliet and he'd co-host one season of kids' show Going Great, alongside Megan Follows, who'd later score an ongoing TV hit as Anne of Green Gables.
1984 brought a breakthrough of sorts. After appearing once more as a young thug in Night Heat, and yet again in The Prodigal, he took on a play called Wolfboy at Toronto's Passe Muraille Theatre. Here he played suicidal teenager, Bernie, who's sent to a psychiatric hospital where he's seduced by a disturbed male prostitute who thinks he's a wolf. The play caused a major stir with its homoerotic content (including an oiled Keanu doing press-ups in his boxer shorts), and would win Reeves his Equity card.
Now his two obsessions - acting and hockey - combined to present an international screen debut. This was in Youngblood, where Rob Lowe played a farm boy who dreams of making it in the Canadian hockey leagues - Keanu appearing as Heaver, a member of the team he tries to join, a team also featuring Patrick Swayze.
At last he was ready for his assault on the big-time. In his old Volvo he took off for Hollywood, with $3000 and Paul Aaron's address in his pocket. Though an agent would persuade him to briefly change his name to the less-exotic KC, work would come quickly. And not just any work, as Reeves would make his American film debut in one of the most important movies of the Eighties - River's Edge (he'd made his US TV debut in a failed pilot called Fast Food). This was directed by Tim Hunter, who'd earlier written Over The Edge, a study of punky alienation featuring a pumping contemporary soundtrack and starring Matt Dillon. River's Edge used many of the same tactics but was a much bleaker piece. Here a bunch of slacker school kids discover that one of their number, Samson (Daniel Roebuck) has killed his girlfriend and left her body lying beside the river. Of course, they should call the police, but denim-clad Keanu, his responsible girlfriend Ione Skye and the rest are all persuaded by Crispin Glover's Layne to try to save Samson. Thus, as Layne screams around listening to Slayer in his battered motor and enlisting the help of local freak Dennis Hopper, they're all dragged deeper and deeper into the mess.
Many found the kids' split loyalties and amoral disinterest to be deeply disturbing, and River's Edge - arriving slap-bang in the middle of America's slacker movement - became a major Gen X cult hit. Everyone involved was now hot property and Keanu would appear on screen eight times in 1986. Most of this was TV movie work, but it was good and varied. He had a brief role in Act Of Vengeance where Charles Bronson played a miner battling corruption within his union in 1969. Young Again, a forerunner of Tom Hanks' Big, saw 40-year-old businessman Robert Urich magically granted his one wish - to be 17 once more - and transformed into Keanu. Under The Influence concerned a family ravaged by a father's alcoholism, Keanu playing the younger son, dabbling with drink but pulling away before he follows dad Andy Griffith down the slippery slope.
Next came a remake of Babes In Toyland where Drew Barrymore, forced to look after her siblings and losing her innocence too soon, suffers an accident and finds herself in Toyland and (helped by Keanu's Jack-Be-Nimble) tries to save Mary Contrary from a disastrous marriage to evil-hearted Barnaby Barnacle. Mary would be played by Jill Schoelen, with whom Keanu would become romantically involved. She'd later be briefly engaged to Brad Pitt.
Then there would be Flying, where he played a goofy schoolboy outsider, keen to get it together with Olivia D'Abo, a girl attempting to overcome a knee injury and make it onto the gym team. And 1986 would end with Keanu starring alongside Kiefer Sutherland and Billy Zane in Brotherhood Of Justice. Here he was a school kid who, along with others sick of the drugs and violence around them, forms a secret vigilante gang that rapidly goes out of control.
River's Edge had given him a foothold in cinema, despite his turning down the Charlie Sheen role in Platoon due to the excessive violence, and 1988 saw him steady his position. In the wacky teen comedy The Night Before he starred as goofy Winston Connelly, a school geek who, due to a bet gone wrong, finds himself taking stuck-up pretty girl Lori Loughlin (who'd earlier appeared in Brotherhood Of Justice) to the prom. Unfortunately, he gets drunk and involved with pimps, and loses his wallet, his girl and his dad's car.
Light years away from this was Permanent Record where a scholarship-winning high school kid with everything going for him decides to jump off a cliff. Everyone is naturally mystified and traumatised, Keanu standing out as a friend who was learning guitar from the dead man. The scene where - drunk, furious and wracked with guilt - he confronts the suicide's brother and father was especially moving, and proof positive that Reeves was an actor of considerable potential. He continued the disturbed teen theme with comedy The Prince Of Pennsylvania where, having witnessed mum Bonnie Bedelia cheating on his dreamer dad Fred Ward, he gets embroiled in a plot to kidnap Ward with kooky older woman Amy Madigan.
Now he moved up a gear by appearing as Chevalier Danceny in Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons. An epic of deceit and desire, this saw Glenn Close and John Malkovich as decadent French aristocrats playing ruinous games with sex and psychology. When Close persuades Malkovich to seduce virginal Uma Thurman to get back at an ex-lover about to marry the young girl, she adds interest by introducing impoverished music teacher Danceny to the fray. But disaster looms when Malkovich does the unthinkable and falls in love with Michelle Pfeiffer, another of his victims. An infuriated Close then sets in motion a string of events leading to a deadly dual between Keanu and Malkovich.
Dangerous Liaisons showed Keanu's determination to succeed as a "serious" actor as, to make it, he turned down the lead in The Fly 2 and took a 90% paycut. It also began a string of major hits for Reeves.